Metropole Orkest vs Basement Jaxx at Blaze Festival is truly special

Blaze Festival 2011 review

By Darren Willsher | Published: Tue 19th Jul 2011

Blaze Festival 2011

Sunday 19th June to Thursday 28th July 2011
various venues, central and east London, England MAP
varies depending upon event

Basement Jaxx come together with 60-piece Dutch orchestra, Metropole Orkest and the 40 strong Crouch End Festival Chorus for these special shows at London's Barbican. The same show first took place in Eindhoven in 2010 and the UK version forms part of the Barbican's Blaze festival.

To call this a 'gig' would be doing it something of a disservice. With almost 100 people on stage including a ballet dancer (Jennifer White) and break dancer (Lil Buck), it's much more than you'd normally expect from a Jaxx show. Watching the excellent Le Gateau Chocolat, an outsized cabaret star with a strong baritone voice, dressed in high heels and what can only be described as an explosion of orange fabric, performing 'Where's your head at' alongside a full orchestra and ballet dancer isn't something you see every day - more's the pity.

The arrangements were put together by Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx and conductor-arranger Jules Buckley of the Heritage Orchestra. In his program notes, Buxton said that the main aim was to “...completely reinterpret each song rather than simply fuse electronics with the orchestra, as often occurs when pop and classical collide.” The fact that neither of the two Basement Jaxx members were on stage shows how committed to this he was.

Rather than adding an orchestral layer to the tracks, they have indeed been completely re-done, to the extent that 'Red Alert' was almost completely unrecognisable from the original and fully instrumental. It took until the fifth song of the evening before the vocals got in on the act, with regular Jaxx singers Sharlene Hector, Lisa Kekaula, Vula Malinga and Brendan Reilly all on stage at some point along with the aforementioned Le Gateau Chocolat.

The setlist was broken up with first a cello solo and later violin, each time accompanied by either the ballet or break-dancer. It made for a slightly odd feel to proceedings, particularly when the solo followed one of the more upbeat, lively tracks. Including the interludes the set ran to 20 different songs, an impressive effort considering the obvious work that had gone into the arrangements.

There were a couple of tracks that didn't seem to hang together as they should, but for the most part this was a stunning example of what Jules Buckley and Felix Buxton are capable of. The fact that Basement Jaxx tracks are, for the most part, well suited to an orchestral approach surely helped, but the arrangements really took it to a whole new level. If you're getting a standing ovation from some sections of the crowd mid-way through the show then clearly something is going well.

The latter tracks of 'Romeo' and 'Do Your Thing' got the crowd on their feet, and that in a way illustrated the only negative aspect of the whole performance. The Barbican is a fantastic venue and as always, the acoustics and effects were spot on, but you could tell a lot of the crowd wanted to be on their feet and dancing rather than sat down.

Everyone expects an encore and after Romeo, the singers and conductor departed to return for 'Samba Magic', the track that was closest to the original out of the whole night. Although encores are becoming passé, in this case the two 'finishes' allowed the crowd to appreciate both the singers in 'Romeo' and then the orchestra in 'Samba Magic'.

Many different bands and artists have at some point worked with an orchestra, either for a one-off tour or sometimes an album, but few have done it as well as this. By taking the brave step of moving away from the style and sounds that have served them well, the end result is something that stands out in its own right and is truly special.
review by: Darren Willsher

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last updated: Fri 10th Jun 2011